tv PBS News Hour PBS May 25, 2012 6:00pm-7:00pm EDT
captioning sponsored by macneil/lehrer productions >> woodruff: gasoline prices are down in most of the nation, giving motorists relief at the pump this holiday weekend. good evening. i'm judy woodruff. >> brown: and i'm jeffrey brown. on the newshour tonight, we assess what's behind the downward trend, and whether it's likely to continue into the summer travel season. >> woodruff: then, we update the battle for the presidency in egypt as a muslim brotherhood candidate wins a spot in the runoff elections next month. >> brown: ray suarez examines the lasting legacy of the case of the missing child etan patz. >> woodruff: miles o'brien reports on safety measures at u.s. nuclear plants, and asks are they ready for a worst-case scenario, a fukushima-like meltdown?
>> the i anybodya against change and against improvement, i think it's something we have to be vigilant about and push so the regulator can make sure that change happens. >> david >> brown: david brooks and ruth marcus analyze the week's news. >> woodruff: and we talk to pulitzer prize winning author stephen greenblatt about his new book, the story of the rediscovery of an ancient manuscript and its influence even today. >> one day, it is on the shelf and not instantly but decisively the world changes. >> woodruff: that's all ahead on tonight's newshour. major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by: >> growing up in arctic norway, everybody took fish oil to stay healthy. when i moved to the united states almost 30 years ago, i could not find an omega-3 fish oil that worked for me. i became inspired to bring a new
definition of fish oil quality to the world. today, nordic naturals is working to fulfill our mission of bringing omega-3s to everyone, because we believe omega-3s are essential to life. >> at&t >> the william and flora hewlett foundation, working to solve social and environmental problems at home and around the world. >> and with the ongoing support of these institutions and foundations. and... >> this program was made possible by the corporation for public broadcasting. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> woodruff: memorial day beckoned today, and highways began to fill for the heavily
traveled holiday. in much of the country, the weekend trips promised to be just a little bit cheaper this year. across the country, americans filled up and hit the road, taking advantage of a timely drop in gas prices. >> we're going to savannah beach. >> we're traveling to pennsylvania. >> woodruff: the american automobile association, triple-a, projected nearly 35 million americans will travel at least 50 miles this weekend, mostly driving. that's up more than 1% from last year. they'll find the average price of gas is down 14 cents a gallon from this time last year, and a quarter since the end of march. >> i'm happy with $3.50 after it was $3.69 last week and $3.79 the week before that. >> well, thank goodness. i'd be more excited if i thought it was something that was going to last, and i'm sure it's not, so we'll just have to wait and see. >> woodruff: gas prices aren't down everywhere. cynthia brough of triple-a says
refineries and local taxes cause variations in price around the country. >> right now, we see a tale of two coasts. on the east coast, prices have been coming down steadily since that high peak on april 6. but on the west coast, they actually went up because there were some refineries on the west coast that had some unforeseen maintenance problems, so they were unable to keep up with the demand. those prices seem to have peaked, and prices peaked are better than prices going up, so between the east coast prices dropping and the west coast prices plateauing, it's good news for everybody. >> woodruff: for now, gasoline in many parts of the country is following a steady decline in the price of oil, which closed below $90 a barrel on wednesday for the first time since october. oil prices have fallen as u.s. oil inventories have been rising, and as economic slowdowns in china and europe cut into overall global demand.
>> gas prices are coming down because there have been concerns by the speculators that high oil prices will have a negative impact on the global economy, and opec promised a little while ago that they would increase their production. >> woodruff: at the same time, renewed talks on iran's nuclear program have eased concerns that that country's oil output could be disrupted by u.s. or israeli attacks. the triple-a says many analysts expect gas prices to dip during the rest of the summer. >> right now, we don't really see anything in the global economy that leads us to believe that there is a reason for gas prices to take a sharp spike upward again. now, having said that, there are always unforeseen circumstances that can affect those gas prices and the price of oil, like hurricane season-- beginning june 1-- geopolitical
situations, unrest, or potentially opec not producing the supply that they promised. >> woodruff: the prices of oil and gas are always an important pocketbook issue, and will be closely watched this summer by both presidential candidates. >> as long as gas prices are going up, people are going to feel like i'm not doing enough. and i understand that, because people get hurt when they're going to that gas station and seeing those prices rise every day. >> he says something that... i think it was yesterday. he said the reason we have high gasoline prices is... and then he was seeking around. "what could it be? what could it be?" >> woodruff: during the winter, the president's disapproval rating crept up as gas prices were rising. more than half of those responding in one poll said they think it's within the president's power to help bring down the price of gas. >> brown: still to come on the newshour: the coming runoff election in egypt; the long legacy of a missing- child case;
what-if scenarios at nuclear plants; brooks and marcus; and an ancient book's influence on the modern world. but first, the other news of the day. here's kwame holman. >> holman: wall street went into the long weekend on a cautious note amid bank troubles in europe and slowing growth in asia. the dow jones industrial average lost nearly 75 points to close below 12,455. the nasdaq fell nearly two points to close at 2,837. but for the week, the dow gained seven-tenths of a percent; the nasdaq rose 2%. the typical chief executive officer at a major firm made more than $9 million last year, breaking previous records. the associated press reported today that u.s. companies also had record profits. for those in the standard and poor's 500 index, profits were up 16% in 2011. and c.e.o.s got about 6% more in compensation, due in part to receiving more stock awards. for the first time, a privately built spacecraft arrived at the international space station today.
the unmanned space-x dragon capsule was captured by the station's robot arm in a rendezvous high over australia. ground crews at both nasa and space-x cheered and high-fived when the capsule finally berthed. elon musk, the billionaire founder of space-x, spoke in a video link from the company's mission control in hawthorne, california. >> holman: once its cargo is unloaded, the dragon will return to earth. space-x has a contract to make a dozen more delivery runs. in syria, anti-government activists reported an army assault killed at least 50
people in the central part of the country. the reports said 13 of the victims were children. they said troops opened fire and began shelling after protests near the city of homs. those are some of the day's major stories. now, back to jeff. >> brown: and we turn to egypt, where the vote count from round one of the presidential elections reveals deep rifts among the public. preliminary results showed the two most-polarizing candidates for president might very well face each other in a mid-june runoff. that would set up a battle between the secular, military- backed elite that's ruled egypt for decades and the islamist forces it long suppressed. the leading vote-getter appeared to be the muslim brotherhood's candidate, mohammed morsi, with roughly 25%. the brotherhood was banned in egypt until last february's revolution toppled hosni mubarak. it dominated parliamentary elections late last year. neck and neck with morsi in the voting was mubarak's final prime minister, ahmed shafik. the former general promised a
return to law and order amid a cresting crime wave. on cairo streets today, the stark divisions were clear. >> ( translated ): morsi is a religious man, not corrupted, and this is what we need. >> ( translated ): i am very upset with the results. i don't want an islamist for president, and if there is a runoff, i will vote for shafiq. >> brown: in third place for now, just behind shafik, sat hamdeen sabahi, a socialist whose candidacy attracted liberal and leftist voters. >> ( translated ): hamdeen sabahi is like what he says. he is one of us. he is not considered an islamist or from the former mubarak regime. he is just an egyptian. >> brown: largely left out of the bidding was the fractious liberal contingent that fomented revolution in early 2011. it did not coalesce behind one candidate, splitting its vote among several. two men who had recently shared front-runner status with morsi appeared well behind. abdel moneim aboul-fatouh's
liberal islamist candidacy had attracted voters seeking to blunt the muslim brotherhood's political force. and amr moussa, a former foreign minister and arab league secretary general, finished with a small percentage of the vote. the runoff election is scheduled for the weekend of june 16 and 17 with a winner declared june 21. reporter nancy youssef is covering the elections for mcclatchy newspapers in cairo. i spoke to her a short time ago. nancy, thanks for joining us, so what's its reaction there? is it seen as a surprising result? >> yeah, people are really stunned here. the news started trickling in around 4:00 in the morning. and many people woke up and were shocked at the results. it you are a revolutionary you were particularly shocked because none of the revolutionary candidates appeared to make the runoff which means rather than sort of creating the great reform that they had hoped for, people are really voting for some of the past ideas, whether it was the
80-year-old muslim brotherhood or a regime candidate, so there's really been a state of shock throughout the country about the outcome of the elections and, really, and what areas each candidate did very well in. >> brown: tell us a little bit about what looks to be the two finalists and how they are polarizing figures, morsi and shafiq. >> shackique was mubarak prime minister in the final days before he was deposed, a former air force general colleague of mubarak an has really been unapologetic to his ties to the reg only. he has promised to restore order in this country and security 59 a time where people are suffering from more crimes since the revolutionary, from more unemployment and higher food prices. and he is really unapologetically a face of the past. and one could argue his base is what they call the couch party, those who stayed home during the revolution. mohammed moirs was a name that sort of emerged pretty late in the campaign after the brotherhood's first candidate dropped out.
and he by everyone's estimation a rather uncharismatic leader but has the backing of the best organized political machine in egypt, the muslim brother hod which really galvanized the vote on his behalf. and he has promised to bring egypt to the kind of islamic state the brotherhood talked about for years and years, for decades in exilement and recently since the revolution in open areas. >> brown: so the more secular forces that you were talking about earlier who pushed for the revolution to oust mubarak, they're feeling confused, angry. what happened to them? >> they'll till the mistake that they made was they had three revolutionary candidates on the ballot. had they just had one they would have had someone. and so the leading of the three sabbahi got 25-- 20. the other thing they will tell you is they were poorly organized, they were too decentralized and that they
didn't really get behind the person. and were already starting to hear threats of boycotting in the general election, hearing threats of voy lens, even hearing people saying that they will vote for morsi despite the fact they don't agree with anything he stands for because it's peter than putting someone in from the regime back in power. to do so would really essentially kill the revolution. you can hear the sort of rumblings here about is the revolution over now that these two are the candidates. and i think for some people today, it is. >> brown: so you mean the potential for unrest again is very real, precisely because of these potential two candidates. >> absolutely. i mean in the days up until the revolution i ran into people who said i'm voting for shafiq even though i know this will lead to war, you know, because he's such a polarizing figure, more than morsi because he is the face of the very thing that people died for to get rid of. and so there is an expectation here that at the minimum people will go back
to tahrir square. conversely f morsi ends up losing in the runoff election we could see islammists going to the street and not accepting the results of the election. so there is a real possibility of instable here in the days and weeks to come. >> brown: so, of course, nancy there are wider stakes beyond egypt. you have a lot of people watching, you have other arab countries, israel and the u.s. what are the stakes for the u.s. in this? >> i think primarily the stakes are the potential of either having relatively similar relations to egypt that they had under the mubarak regime. and fundamentally different relations, remember that for years the muslim brotherhood was shunned by the united states. and the brotherhood hasn't forgotten that and has sort of promised to the public that they will distance themselves from the united states so this portends of a weakened relationship, not only for the united states but by extension for israel. and even puts the peace accords in jeopardy. so it is as much at stake in
a way for the united states as it is for voters here because of the kind of outcome that could come from this election. >> brown: nancy youssef in cairo for us, thanks some of. >> thank you. >> woodruff: next, an update on a missing child case that remains unsolved after more than 30 years. ray suarez has that story. >> suarez: for three decades, the question hung over the new york city police department-- what happened to etan patz? the six-year-old boy disappeared as he walked two blocks to his school bus stop in manhattan 33 years ago today. the case set in motion a massive search effort and galvanized a movement. etan patz became one of the first missing children featured on milk cartons and billboards. >> etan's case was a case that changed america. millions of parents sat at home
and thought, "there but for the grace of god goes my child." >> suarez: his parents, stan and julie patz, endured years of false leads, but clung to hope that etan might still be alive. >> the thought in the backs of our minds was always that we should be here for him. >> suarez: the couple never moved from their soho apartment or changed their phone number, in case their son ever tried to contact them. etan was finally declared legally dead in 2001. then, in 2010, police reopened the case. last month, pursuing a possible lead, they dug up the basement in an apartment building near the patz's address. they found nothing, but the publicity prompted a new tip. and last night, police arrested pedro hernandez, seen in these photos from "inside edition". police commissioner raymond kelly said he was clerking in a convenience store, a bodega, in the patz's neighborhood in 1979. >> he lured young etan from the
school bus stop at west broadway and prince street with the promise of a soda. he then led him into the basement of the bodega, choked him there, and disposed of the body by putting it into a plastic bag and placing it into the trash. >> suarez: authorities have no physical evidence, but kelly said they got a signed, detailed confession from hernandez, now 51 years old. he'd been living in southern new jersey for years, since shortly after etan patz vanished. hernandez was held and examined overnight in new york's bellevue hospital. late today we learned that hernandez is charged with one count of second-degree murder. for more on the case and its impact on the way we search for missing children we're joined by ernie allen, president and c-e-o of the national center for missing and exploited children. and lisa cohen, author of the
book, "after etan: the missing child case that held america captive." last day new york city detectives said of pedro hernandez he's lus i had, he's persuasive but there's not a lot of corroborating information. have police given any indication how they could know pedro hernandez is telling the truth? >> well, they haven't publicly talked about anything more than the fact that he is-- he is emotional when he told the story. and the fact that he didn't come forward, you know, with some false-- people without confess falsely sometimes they are looking for tension and they come forward. he was actually brought to the attention of the authorities by a relative of, i believe it was a brother-in-law. they questioned him and at that points he confessed. having said that, no, i think that's a huge question. what exactly we're going to see to corroborate the fact that he killed etan patz. and it's always a tough case when a case is this old and there is no body.
>> suarez: had hernandez ever been a suspect previously? >> i believe that in the very first days of the investigation when they were canvassing everyone in the neighborhood he was-- his name appeared on what they called dd 5. it's a detective note. and along with two or three other people in the sense that they were questioned, did you see the boy, did you have anything to do with this. and their cursory sort of no, didn't know anything about him. and that, is all that i know about any kind of contact that he had with authorities. i had never heard of him before thursday. >> suarez: it was recently announced that the case was go stock reopened. there was much publicized drilling open of a nearby workshop floor not far from the patz's pardon me. did the case get a lot more play and is that what generated the new tip? >> that is my understanding is that on seeing all the publicity, the brother-in-law or the relative then contacted police. but, and that's a very
common thing. i men the thing is when some new development happens in a case and it gets a lot of plibsity, sometimes, you know, authorities aren't happy about all the publicity but it's a trade-off. and what you sometimes then get is people coming forward with new information. the problem is what you also sometimes get are people coming forward seeking attention who will make things up. so you have to be very careful that you have got the right, you got the first and not the second. >> suarez: ernie allen, take us back to 1979. how was the legal and investigative state of play different when a child was missing? >> ray, there was basically no system in 1979. you couldn't enter missing child information into the fbi's national crime computer. most police departments had mandatory waiting periods. this was a nation of 18,000 different police departments that didn't talk to each other. etan's case changed america and the way america search force missing children. >> suarez: how so? >> well, because of etan and
adam walsh and a few other high profile cases, congress passed the missing children's act in 1982 making it possible to put missing child information into the fbi's national crime computer. in 1984 the national center for missing and exploited children was created to build a coordinated national response. we began to bring technology to this. there are 50 state missing children clearinghouses nationwide. it is a very different place. and as a result, today in america more missing children come home safely than ever before. and much of that is a tribute tbl to the legacy of e9an patz. >> suarez: today is the 33rd anniversary, as we mentioned of his disappearance, but it's also national missing children's day. how did that happen? >> well, in 1983 there was a series of high profile troubling cases started by etan.
adam walsh in florida, the missing and murdered children of atlanta. johnny gosh, the des moines, iowa paperboy, kevin collins in san francisco. president ronald reagan decided to declare the first national missing children's day. and the date he chose was may 25th commemorating the date that etan had disappeared four years earlier. today this is the 30th national missing children's day. and it's not just in an american observation. may 25th is observed as missing children's day around the world. >> suarez: lisa cohen, the etan patz case stayed alive in new york for many years after the boy disappeared. you could see his face on cash registers, in store windows, computer generated graphics showing how he would have aged as a teenager and a young adult. was this largely due to the fact that the parents, stan and julie patz were willing to remain in the public eye in a way that perhaps other crime victims' families are
not? >> that may have been part of it. i would submit that there were a number of things that made this a story that people could not walk away from. i mean the narrative alone that this was the first time this little boy walked to the bus stop on his own. that he was so young, that he was six, that he was beautiful, he was a blue eyed, blond haired boy. and his father was a professional photographer. so he-- there were pictures to send out to the world that were by far more compelling, more beautifully lit. he jumped off the page because his father was an artist. and so all of those things coupled with the fact that 9 story really never ended. there was no, finality to it. so it was an ongoing story of public interest. >> suarez: the family focused its attention on another man, didn't it. wasn't a man named jose ramos eventually found in a civil action to be held responsible foretan's death. >> that's correct, that's
right. he was a prime suspect for many years. and he had-- he knew a woman who had worked for the patz. he said to authorities that he had taken a boy who was 90% sure was etan to his pardon me the day etan went missing and tried to have sex with him. and then he said he let him go. but there were-- there were compelling reasons to think that he was really a legitimate suspect in the case. >> suarez: are you surprised that this is the way that this has all ended ernie all snen. >> well, i'm a little surprised. but i think the most encouraging thing about it is that the new york police department continued to investigate the disappearance of etan patz and pursued this, digging up this basement last month, i think, sent a loud, clear message to searching parents and law enforcement around this country that just
because it's been a month or a year or 33 years, the search goes on. our hope is that this finally provides the patz family some answers and some justice. >> suarez: tonight by video camera, pedro hernandez will be arraigned from his hospital bed at bellevue hospital, ernie allen, lisa cohen, thank you both. >> thank you. >> brown: in the wake of the fukushima nuclear disaster, how should government regulators here set the safety bar for nuclear power plants in the u.s.? this week, the head of the nuclear regulatory commission announced his resignation, and news reports suggest that battles within the commission over safety requirements may partially account for his departure. newshour science correspondent miles o'brien has been looking into these bigger questions well before the latest news. his report was produced in partnership with propublica.
>> understand on a.o.p. one for reactor scrams and a.o.p. two for turbine trips. >> the immediate actions for a.o.p. one for reactor scam are complete. >> reporter: this is a test, only a test. if it were a real nuclear accident in the making, you would know about it by now. >> right now, we've sustained a loss of r.p.s. bravo. >> reporter: we're in a simulator at the river bend nuclear power plant near st. francisville, louisiana, where these technicians are practicing how to respond to an accident. since the three mile island meltdown in 1979, this has been part of the routine at all u.s. nuclear power plants, one of many changes in the way the industry does business in the wake of that accident. but now, in the wake of the fukushima meltdowns, u.s. regulators and the industry are grappling with how best to respond, or not, to what
happened in japan. gregory jaczko is the outgoing chairman of the nuclear regulatory commission. >> nuclear power plants generally work well when a lot of things aren't changing. so there is, i think, an inertia against change and against improvement. and i think it's something we have to be vigilant about and continue to push, as the regulator, to make sure that that change happens. >> reporter: "an inertia against improvement." that doesn't sound like a very safe approach. >> well, i think you look at the industry and where it is today versus where it was in ten, 15, 20 years ago, there have been a lot of enhancements to safety. performance is much better than it used to be. >> reporter: i joined jaczko as he toured the river bend plant. managers here showed us the layers of safety measures that stand between controlled nuclear fission and disaster. in industry parlance, it is called "defense in depth. " these portable generators at river bend are the last line in
that defense if a failure, a disaster, or terrorism knocks out the three larger backup generators designed to keep the cooling water flowing and the nuclear fuel from melting. but industry watchdogs warn there are holes in the defense at u.s. nuclear power plants. >> the biggest concern i've had with the nrc over the years i've been monitoring them is lack of consistency. >> reporter: dave lochbaum is a nuclear engineer who spent 17 years working for the industry before publicly blowing the whistle on safety concerns and joining the union of concerned scientists, which just released an eye-opening report on the nrc and nuclear plant safety in the u.s. in 2011. it documents 15 near-misses, many occurring because reactor owners either tolerated known safety problems or took inadequate measures to correct them; problems with safety related equipment that increase the risk of damage to the nuclear core; recognized but unresolved problems that often cause
significant safety-related events at nuclear power plants or increase their severity." and it says nrc inspectors all too often focus just on a specific problem, not its underlying cause. >> i think the challenge the nrc has is, when something happens, it's easy to convince people they need to spend money, prevent the next one. but when something hasn't happened yet and it's just a postulated event or a hypothetical disaster, it's more difficult to get people to pony up millions of dollars to fix the hypothetical problem. >> reporter: the case-in-point may be the indian point, the nuclear plant that sits on the hudson river, 35 miles from times square in manhattan. the 40-year licenses to operate the reactors here are up for renewal. indian point's owner, entergy, is seeking a 20-year license renewal. but where to set the safety bar, especially after fukushima, is at the heart of a raging debate over whether indian point should get a new lease on life. eric schneiderman is the
attorney general of the state of new york. >> it is clear to us that, at this point in time, they have not met their burden of proof of showing that they deserve to be re-licensed. >> reporter: after three mile island, a federal court ruling forced utilities to expand their list of what-if scenarios and consider the cost of protecting against more unlikely events than required by the nrc. they are called "severe accident mitigation alternative analyses," or samas. >> all that requires the utility to do is to examine, do a cost- benefit analysis of safety measures that are not prohibitively expensive but could provide substantial additional safety for the plant. >> reporter: indian point's sama analysis revealed 20 cost- beneficial safety upgrades entergy could perform. they include adding a diesel generator to charge batteries, a flood alarm, better flood protection, additional devices to monitor for leaks, and a valve to reduce the risk of
hydrogen explosions. in all, the upgrades carry a $77 million price tag. but surprisingly, implementation of sama upgrades like these was not a prerequisite for an nrc license renewal. why not? >> we have a two-track approach to our review. the first part is really the safety decision and that's about the license. the second part is about the federal government needing to do a review to look at environmental consequences. so, it's part of that second review that we look at these severe accident issues, and they really are about looking at environmental impacts. >> reporter: so, that means you don't have to factor in a fukushima scenario as you consider the possibility of re-licensing a plant? >> again, we do it as part of the environmental review, but not specifically in the safety context. >> the nrc is taking a very narrow view of what's required for re-licensing. it defies common sense. there is no one out there who
thinks that that's the way a regulatory agency should behave. >> reporter: so schneiderman took entergy to court, and his unprecedented legal challenge paid off. in a landmark decision, the independent tribunal responsible for re-licensing ruled that the company must now consider, and likely implement, the sama upgrades in order to get a new license. >> were not talking about wild, expensive stuff. these are only things that pass through this cost-benefit analysis. these are cheap remedies that yield a substantial safety big bang for the buck, or a little bang for the buck, i guess. but it's something that they should absolutely be required to do. and now, in the context of indian point, because it will be a condition of their re-licensing, they will be required to going forward. that should be our policy in every nuclear power plant in the country. >> reporter: it should be given? >> yes, absolutely. >> reporter: scheiderman hopes his victory will change the way the nrc does business, but as gregory jaczko points out, the agency is resistant to change. in fact, the announcement of his resignation comes amid a battle
with other commissioners over whether to embrace a menu of a dozen changes proposed by a task force that studied the fukushima meltdowns. among the recommendations, a requirement that plants have vents designed to prevent buildup of explosive gas, that operators plan for outages at more than one reactor simultaneously, and most important, the installation of extra generators like this one at river bend that would allow a nuclear plant to endure a long blackout of at least eight hours without losing the ability to keep cooling water flowing over the hot nuclear fuel rods. >> that effort is going to take probably at least two years, and it will require focus and diligence on the part of the agency, as well as in the part of the industry to make sure that we get that rule change done, and then we implement everything that it requires in a prompt and timely way. >> reporter: two years. that's light speed for you guys. >> i think two years would be an aggressive schedule, but it's one that i think we can achieve.
>> reporter: but the other nrc commissioners and the nuclear industry are fighting the fukushima task force safety upgrades, saying they need more time to implement them. the meltdowns in japan may have forced the industry to think about the unthinkable, but it is still unclear what actions may follow, and if the nrc will take the lead or be forced into taking action. >> woodruff: and to the analysis of brooks and marcus-- that's "new york times" columnist david brooks and "washington post" columnist ruth marcus, filling in for mark shields. it's good to you have both with us. >> thanks and what is more exciting to talk about than the congressional budget office. so this week there was a sobering report from the congressional budget office, david. in which they warned the country could land in another recession if congress does a couple of things. let's these-- doesn't let
these bush era tax cuts expire and if there are serious cuts made in government spending. and there are members of congress without want both of these things to happen. so what do people think is really going to happen there. >> you know, it's all going to happen -- >> it will be actually all these things come due, tax cuts, all these automatic things start happening to we have this incredibly naughty problem on to a congress which is unable to do the easy problems. so dealing with the tough problem is going to be tremendously difficult. and so is there any reason to be other than despairing? >> i think there is a couple and again, one is i think the republicans have desided that what happened last summer was not good for them. they have taken the country to the brink. they are a little more chastened, a little more flexible on the idea that tax revenue, not rates, but
revenues should be allowed to rise as long as the money can be thrown into the debt so that is some flexibility there. but if you had to bet long-term will we do what we need to do, all these different things to get sort of a fiscal balance over the next year, i surely would not bet on that. >> congress going to come to its senses? >> well, i don't think anybody should ever bet on that. but david said that republicans seemed chastened. he certainly couldn't tell us from the comments of speaker boehner who seems more than willing to do a replay of the disaster, from my point of view, economically. and also disaster politically for republicans replay of the debt ceiling showdown last time around a year ago. and what's going to happen is all of this taxmageddon as we are calling it is going because of the timing of it, will probably kick the can down the road from the lame duck, for maybe six months into the next congress and guess what, that going to coincide with, collide with hitting the
debt ceiling yet again. so the the quick thing on the cbo report. they used 9 r word which is very, very scary, recession of if all of these things come to pass, they said, the economy would be in recession in the beginning of 2013. >> which got everybody's attention. >> which got everybody's attention. but in some ways that wasn't really the message, that the cbo wanted it to send. because yes, that would be a very bad outcome. but the second thing they said was that the alternative if you feel a bet figures-- and just dug the debt deeper, the debt hole that much deeper, that would also be a terrible outcome later. so they have been begging in their very quiet sounding cbo language, please members of congress, you need to both avert the fiscal cliff now and come up with a plan that markets can understand, that you really have to fill the debt hole later on. whether congress can manage
that,-- . >> woodruff: so david, congress this year is watching the election. not a lot is going on over the summer. so does something like this that said in the late spring did it really have an effect? >> yeah, i think they are taking it seriously. i know the republicans are. they take the debt extremely seriously and how much they want to move is a matter of intrnl debate. so publicly, ruth is absolutely right. john boehner is laying down these stark markers underneath i don't think they exist. i think there is voom for flexibility. there is feeling we need more revenue. now the question is you have got to disguise the ref new increases in a-- comprehensive tax reform. and the republicans really want to do a comprehensive tax reform. they think it would allow them to secretly raise a lot of revenue. but also it would be good for the economy, create growth, more job, more tax revenues. democrats and especially the obama administration a lot less persuaded that tax reform would be a great thing. they don't think it would produce a lot of growth.
they think politically it would be extremely tough to get rid of some of these big deductions. and so it's very interesting to mow, talking to people from the obama administration and hear them being very tepid on the whole idea of comprehensive tax -- >> you have got in europe this week became clearer that there really are serious disagreements on what they going to do to get out of their own debt crisis. what-- is there a consensus on what affect that could have here? >> yes, the consensus is bad. and the question is how bad. in that really in a sense though, the c.e.o. didn't talk about it in the report, that just adds to the scariness and the height of the cliff because what happens in europe doesn't stay in europe. we know that europe seems, the european problem just seems to be like a chronic disease now that we've been living with and europe doesn't seem to be getting well. it's not getting well and you see questions about economic growth in china, all of that has an impact on growth here, or lack of growth. >> is there a clear affect
of all this t david, on the presidential campaign or is it just wait and see. >> potentially catastrophic. what's happened in the last couple of weeks in europe is a lot of europeans have secretly decide okay, greece is gone. they are going to leave the eurozone. and the question is do they have a soft landing where greece goes and greece has to deal with some problems and the rest of europe will suffer, but not cataclysmicly or does the greek exits precipitate a whole series of other problems which lead to a complete collapse of the euro which would, according to one study, produce a 9% drop in european gdp which would be cataclysmic not only for them but for us it would send us back into a pretty deep recession. and so i don't know if that is going to happen. nobody knows how they will handle that prospect but it could have a really negative, really, really negative -- >> and not that anybody is thinking about this in political terms but it would have a very negative effect, obviously, on president obama's re-election chances. and they are watching it very, very closely. >> they are interested in having europe continue to kick the can down the road
so it would be maybe 20 13rx the problem with that is you have popular unrest, you've got a reverse all sorts of agreements. it's more likely that greece will go. and then that's really a problem for obama politically. >> woodruff: and meantime the debate continued. it's separate but it's connected in a way, this debate over whether romney's experience running his private equity firm bain capital which sometimes did big leveraged buyouts of companies that cost jobs, the debate continued this week. david, over whether that is a good qualification for romney to be president or whether it says something kind of ugly about what goes on with capitalism. >> yeah, i sort of think this debate hurts both can dapt-- can dats. i think bain is not popular. it is not well-known. most americans don't know, but it is not popular the fact that he was in a weird consulting group. it's not popular. i think they are exploiting it for a reason. nonetheless it makes him hurt obama because it makes him look like a conventional politician.
if you are a liberal democrat i don't think you want to be seen as attacking businessment they people don't-- they don't want to see an anti-business democrat. i think the obama administration and campaign has demeaned itself with a series of falsehoods. they released this ad which had a series of falsehoods. one was that the steel company gst was a healthy company until bain took over which the ad suggests, completely untrue. the second, that romney was part of throwing people out on 9 street when they finally did have to close this failing can. he was long gone from bain. and then finally, that these private equity companies load debt on to businesses, there is a study reported in my newspaper there is no more debt, no more default in these companies than in other comparable companies. so it's a whole series of things which were untrue which make obama seem much more like a conventional politician. >> woodruff: so romney is not hurt by this line of attack? >> in a sense david is right. they are both hurt. i think one of the reasons we're talking about bain for a second week in a row is that we had the experience
on sunday of obama's target, new york mayor cory booker who said that he found it nauseating that these attacks were coming up. if i were the candidates i would get the other very quietly this is my modest proposal for them, just have a pact that your surrogate is going to say something really dumb and damaging to you. my is going to say really dumb and damaging to me. let's pretend they -- >> here comes donald trump about to, about to have a big fund raise we are mitt romney. but the reality is that there are two obamas when it comes to bain. there is the obamas in the very nuanced, very elegant answer when he was asked about it in a press conference this week. and there is nuanced obama and then there is jugular obama who talked about-- you missed the ad, 100% true who talked about bain as a vampire. >> woodruff: isn't the way campaigns always operate where the candidate can be
above the fray and the ad conditions rougher. >> one of the major questions ot bama campaign, he campaigned in 2008 as an untraditional canada. he did many negative ads, people were disgusted by politics could really be inspired by obama because it was a very different campaign. and privately they would say we're not going run a clinton type campaign, not conventional politicians so they really got a lot of independence excited. now they are running a completely traditional campaign, literally regurgitating the exact same ad that ted kennedy ran against mitt romney and so have they decided we've just got to win this way or are they losing something. i think they're losing something by being so conventional. >> we saw this comment a ways out. sheer why they are doing it and why it is a problem for mitt romney as well. is if you look at, for example, "the washington post," poll that came out this week. it has governor romney leading the president 58-40 among whites without college degrees. in terms of who would do the most, which candidate would
do better to advance their family's economic interest. this is a group that president obama is never going to win but he has to be able to narrow that gap. he's never done well with that demographic. and this goes right at the core of the message. this man does not understand your needs is the obama campaign message about romney. and that is a message that could stick. >> woodruff: very, very quickly. romney did give a speech this week on education, did we learn something new. >> i thought it was disappointing. in some ways it was pretty normal republican education position which was increase voucher, increase choice, increase charter schools and i think they are all fine. i think it was a step back from president bush without wanted to use the federal government to really leverage and create a lot more reform. and secondly it was just rearranging the bureaucratic boxes. we learned a lot about education in the last four years about the importance of quality teachers. what did romney have to say about that. precious little so i think it was stale a little.
>> words sle, guts no child left behind, end accountability for school its as a condition of federal aid. you should be much more disappointed. >> woodruff: ruth mar kuses, david brooks v a good memorial day weekend. >> you too, judy, thanks. >> brown: finally tonight, the ancient past reaches out and touches us, a story told in the pulitzer-prize winning book, "the swerve: how the world became modern." can a book, centuries old, change the world? renaissance scholar and harvard professor stephen greenblatt has written what he calls a "deceptively simple story." >> a man, not a particularly important fellow, goes into a library one day, takes a book off a shelf and-- not instantly, but decisively-- the world changes. so, it's about that-- what happens when something
comes back. the book he took off the shelf had been lost, out of circulation for more than 1,000 years, and it carried something in it that turned out to change everything. >> brown: the book was called "de rerum natura," or "on the nature of things," written in the first century by the roman lucretius. a work of poetry, but also of science and philosophy, >> it's a theory of everything-- that is its glory and perhaps its absurdity. it tried to say what the nature of everything was. and it had at its center an ancient idea that wasn't invented by the poet but actually by philosophers before him. but the whole theory was in effect lost except for this poem. and the theory is that the world consists of an infinite number of tiny particles. the ancient greeks referred to them as "things that can't be broken up" and the word for that is "atoms." >> brown: and of course, it has great resonance to what became our science today. >> incredible resonance.
>> brown: at the folger shakespeare library in washington, d.c., recently, greenblatt told us how he first came upon lucretius by chance, picking up a cheap paperback translation when he was in college. he found a work that captivated him then, and still does, portraying a universe without divine design, in which each of our souls dies with the body, and crucially, humans have to seek their own happiness in knowledge and beauty. greenblatt said these were dangerous ideas, especially as christianity took hold. >> once you start thinking about these ideas, once you start thinking what the implications of a world made of atoms and emptiness and nothing else, lots of things potentially at least follow. and those things that follow can be extremely dangerous-- dangerous at least to orthodoxy, whether it's pagan orthodoxy or jewish orthodoxy or christian orthodoxy: that there is no afterlife; that there are no punishments or rewards
divinely issued after we cease to be; that there must be no guarantee for all the values that we have. we make them up as we go along, and they're as durable and as fragile as the atoms of which everything is made. >> brown: you have this expression, "the teeth of time" where things just get lost. actually, incredible amounts of things get lost, including this long poem by lucretius. >> a whole civilization began to disappear, disappeared with the decline and fall of the roman empire. and certain pieces of it disappeared more than other pieces, but lots of things disappeared. we happen to know that the great play by sophocles, "oedipus rex," won second place in its year in the great competition in athens. the first place winner is unknown! >> brown: we don't know who might be better? we don't know the winner. >> it's gone. >> brown: and so might lucretius also be gone to us today, except for this
man, poggio bracciolini, a poor boy who became personal secretary to the pope in 15th-century rome. and later, literally, a book hunter, joining the poet petrarch and other scholars known as "humanists" who were obsessed with reviving the wisdom of classical greek and roman culture. >> they dream of being able to discover, somewhere, usually in the library of a monastery, some book that had slipped through from the ancient world and survived into their time. and they over and over again manage to succeed in finding such things. >> brown: it's funny because, in our day, you think about, "well i'll go online and i'll look for this and i'll search," right? these guys had to get on their horses or burros or whatever and go to a town, get into a monastery, and then actually pull the books off the shelf. >> yes, they crossed mountains, they ventured into difficult territories because the monasteries were often built in obscure places and remote places. and the amazing thing is that, through a combination
of circumstances, accidents and non-accidents, certain things made it. and they discovered them often just before they were about to crumble away into dust. >> brown: poggio wasn't looking for lucretius; he was just looking for "something," right? some text from the past? >> he was hoping to find anything. and he had his mind well- stored with names of people who hadn't been read in a thousand years, and he thought maybe he could find them. >> brown: in 1417, probably at the benedictine monastery in fulda, germany, poggio pulled a book from the shelf, the last surviving copy of lucretius' "de rerum natura". we don't know what happened at that moment, but he opens it, sees the title and knows he's got something. >> he knows he's got something, and he does something crucial, which is he copies it and sends it to his friends, and they begin to copy it, so it spreads again. >> brown: so that's how things get passed on. >> exactly.
>> brown: and its ideas spread: to artists-- botticelli's "primavera" or "allegory of spring", portrays a scene from the poem; to seminal thinkers, among them: galileo, isaac newton, charles darwin, thomas jefferson, who incorporated concepts such as the "pursuit of happiness" from lucretius and other philosophers into his own thinking; and to the young stephen greenblatt. there's a passage late in the book i want to read to you: "there are moments, rare and powerful, in which a writer long vanished from the face of the earth seems to stand in your presence and speak to you directly, as if he bore a message meant for you above all others." i couldn't help but think that this is you, in a sense. >> it is me, jeff! first of all, it's me in relation to lucretius, as it happens, because i happened purely by accident to come on this text at a point in my life when i was quite young in which it spoke very powerfully
directly to me. i had the eerie experience of something speaking to me, as if the person knew me. and i think anyone who has any experience of an encounter with the ghosts of the past knows what i'm talking about, where it seems impossible and yet it's happening. >> brown: all right. the book is "the swerve." stephen greenblatt, nice to talk to you. >> nice to talk to you, jeff. >> brown: online, you can watch stephen greenblatt read an excerpt from "the swerve." >> woodruff: again, the major developments of the day: highways began to fill for the memorial day weekend, as holiday travelers took advantage of falling gas prices in much of the country. a new jersey man was charged with the murder of 6-year-old etan patz 33 years ago in new york city. and results in egypt's presidential election showed the muslim brotherhood's candidate will likely face the mubarak regime's last prime minister. online, we look at politics in this country adjusting to changing demographics. kwame holman has more. >> holman: gwen ifill writes in her weekly blog post about
republican efforts to win over latino voters. that's on our politics page. on "art beat," jeff talks to mandolin player chris thile about the musical project called "the goat rodeo sessions." a one-hour special featuring their live performance airs tonight on most pbs stations. also tonight, "need to know" examines what went wrong in a michigan town counting on a solar panel company to bring jobs. find a link to "need to know" on our home page, and much more at newshour.pbs.org. judy. >> woodruff: and that's the newshour for tonight. on monday, we'll look at a denver program to mentor u.s. troops coming home to a tough job market. i'm judy woodruff. >> brown: and i'm jeffrey brown. "washington week" can be seen later this evening on most pbs stations. we'll see you online, and again here monday evening. have a great holiday weekend. thank you and good night. major funding for the pbs newshour has been provided by:
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